Ok. First a quick history lesson.

Pride has its origins in protest, and specifically in the Stonewall riots of 1969. This was when New York saw the gay community protest against unprovoked police raids on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn (the UK Charity Stonewall took its name from this). The following year the first Pride parades were held as way of commemoration but also to show that gay people can’t be silenced and marginalised so easily. In the 1970s being gay was still seen as ‘shameful’, ‘perverted’, ‘wrong’ and the majority of society held hostile views and prejudices that thankfully many communities have fought to overcome and many countries have paused for thought, considered and rightly dismantled an apparatus of oppression.

Fast forward to today and in the UK we enjoy many freedoms that would have been unthinkable in the 1970’s and it’s easy for many to think that the LGBT community have nothing left to protest about. “What’s left to protest about?” I hear said so many times. We have equal marriage, sexual orientation is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equalities Act and society as a whole is moving from ‘tolerance’ to ‘acceptance’. So why do we still need pride parades and events?

Leathermen in Bristol Pride parade

The public enjoying ‘papping’ the leathermen of the west!

While it’s true the UK has mainly established equality for its LGBT population, there are still people and organisations that just ‘don’t get it’ – don’t get that we’re human with a right to love whom we choose. And anyway, it’s not about being ‘open’, it is about the fundamental right to live an authentic life. No hiding places, no questions, no explanations, no justifications. It means not having to say “this is my partner”- it means being able to saying “this is my husband/wife”. Therefore, by proudly showing people our diverse community, we can help to overcome those final pockets of ignorance and hostility.

Secondly, for those of us who have been on that scary but ultimately rewarding journey of ‘coming out’, we remember a time when we felt we were alone – that we were different from everyone else. Pride gives visibility to our community and shows others that they aren’t alone and that there are others just like them. You’re not alone!

And thirdly, while things are, on the whole, good for LGBT people in the UK, around the world it is a different story. Statistics from dayagainsthomophobia.org show that same sex relationships are still illegal in 76 countries, these 76 countries represent 44% of the world population, in Europe only 37 states recognise a trans person’s gender identity, 22 out of 46 Asian countries criminalise same-sex behaviour – you get the picture.

Pride allows the LGBT community to unite, to celebrate, to challenge, to educate and to support. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. Pride is one way we can ensure our community isn’t forgotten.

So what about our leather community?

Fetishmen marching in Bristol Pride's parade

The fetishmen of the west alongside the whole LGBT community in Bristol Pride’s parade 2016

Well here in the western United Kingdom, up until 2012 there was no organised leather presence marching in Bristol Pride’s parade. The same was true for many local and regional parades. In fact, at certain events, it was discouraged and recently local leathermen were told that it didn’t fit in with the theme of being “family friendly”. That in itself was a very narrow and restricted (possibly retrograde) definition of “family” and counter productive to being inclusive of our diversity.

In 2014 the men of  LeatherWest changed all that and we had an organised presence for the first time; a group of leathermen to proudly march in the parade. The response from the public was overwhelming – people loved to see guys representing one of the most iconic images of gay men.

Since then, leathermen have been appearing in more and more regional pride parades in the west and around the UK. The leathermen have been joined by rubbermen, pubs and other fetish guys. By being visible, we become stronger. By being visible, we inspire and support others.

This year at Bristol, several groups aligning themselves to one fetish or another paraded with the hundreds of people all there to support LGBT people and their right to celebrate themselves as they are: the right to an authentic life. By showing the world our diversity, we give strength to others to join us and to stand proud alongside us.

This year (as in the past few years) the LeatherWest team pitched up in the community area to meet, talk and engage with a vast amount of people. Once again, the rule we know to be true was proven: people love our presence! The public want their pics and selfies with the leathermen. Lots of conversations were had with curious men (and an increasing amount of women) plus those who haven’t worn their leather for a while and “I really must get back into it”. Our advice to those guys – “What are you waiting for?” And as before, the leather inspired beer mats, stickers, posters and sweets continued to fly off the desk all day long.

So pride parades are just as relevant today as they have always been. They are a peaceful symbol of protest, they are a colourful representation of diversity and they are a powerful force to spread acceptance with colour, solidarity and fun!

Happy (leather) Pride everyone!